In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the network confirmed an earlier report that Leno took a 50 percent paycut last month, which the publication said brings his salary down to roughly $15 million a year. As The Hollywood Reporter has independently confirmed, doing so helped NBC cut the show’s $100 million budget by about 20 percent. As part of the arrangement, which reportedly began with a conversation between Leno and NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt last spring, the long-running host extended his contract to Sept. 2014, putting to rest any near-term questions about his future at NBC.
Also revealed in the WSJ story were the number of layoffs (20, which brings the staff to about 200 members) and the level of employees involved (writers and producers were included in the cuts). Reality and late-night chief Paul Telegdy told THR at the time: “These are not easy decisions, and we don’t take them lightly. The Tonight Show’s costs increased when the show moved to primetime and were never changed to the original late-night budget when the show moved back to 11:30 p.m.”
In an interview with WSJ, Greenblatt suggested that the budget had increased by “tens of millions” of dollars in its move to 10 p.m. “All we did was bring it back down to pre-primetime levels,” he said, noting that while the current iteration of The Tonight Show is still profitable, it is “not the cash cow it was in the Johnny Carson days.” (According to Kantar Media, The Tonight Show’s advertising revenue fell from $255 million in 2007, to $159 million last year.)
Leno — who still outrates his younger-skewing competition including Jimmy Kimmel, who will go head-to-head with him beginning in January, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert — blasted the move on his show. “Welcome to The Tonight Show, or as Comcast calls us, The Expendables! As you may have heard, our parent company has downsized The Tonight Show,” he said during his monologue late last month. “And we’ve consistently been No. 1 in the ratings. And if you know anything about our network, that kind of thing is frowned upon.”
What Greenblatt did not do in the interview with WSJ is suggest an end date for Leno’s Tonight Show reign, as his predecessors famously did a few years earlier. (The decision to move Leno to primetime in 2009 proved disastrous, leading to a costly game of musical chairs that saw Conan O’Brien bounced from the network.) “That’s a conversation we’ll have as we look down the road,” Greenblatt said of Leno’s departure, adding: “I’m sure there will be a day when these guys — [David] Letterman and Leno — wake up and say, ‘It’s time for us to exit gracefully.'”
Email: Lacey.Rose@THR.com; Twitter: @LaceyVRose